With the 69th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai.
Ossai, who was born in Nigeria, played in 14 games (two starts) as a true freshman in 2018, finishing with 20 tackles and one sack at inside linebacker. His breakout came in Year 2 when he racked up 90 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2019 at the same position.
As a junior this past season, he moved to outside linebacker and became a team captain. He earned First-Team All-American honors after finishing tied for the third-most tackles for loss (16) in the FBS in just nine starts. He also led Texas with 5.5 sacks to go with 55 total tackles, two pass breakups and three forced fumbles before opting out of the team’s bowl game.
The 6-4, 256-pound Ossai is projected as an edge player in the NFL, and the Bengals currently have him listed as a defensive end.
Value-wise, Ossai has a case to be the Bengals’ biggest steal of the 2021 draft.
- ESPN’s Todd McShay had Ossai ranked 84th overall in his final big board (350 players) and fourth among outside linebackers.
- ESPN analyst Mel Kiper had Ossai ranked 58th overall and sixth among defensive ends.
- The Draft Network ranked Ossai 50th overall.
- NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein gave Ossai a 6.27 grade (Will be starter within first two seasons) and a Round 2 projection.
- The consensus big board by The Athletic’s Arif Hasan had Ossai checking in at 42nd overall, so the Bengals got great value with the 69th pick.
Heading into his rookie season, Ossai has a golden opportunity for playing time. Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson have the starting spots secured, but there’s very little behind them with names like Amani Bledsoe, Khalid Kareem, Renell Wren and rookie Cam Sample challenging for those No. 3/4 defensive end roles.
And because he has experience as a true linebacker, don’t rule out Ossai getting some run there as well since that’s a position of serious concern heading into the 2021 season.